The Pew Center’s polls tend to be pretty disturbing (like last summer’s revelation that 1 in 5 Americans think that President Obama is a Muslim), and this latest is no exception: almost seven out of ten Americans, they report, believe that mothers raising children on their own is bad for society. This is despite the fact that Americans seem to be growing more comfortable with same-sex couples or unmarried couples raising children (the question of single fathers never even seems to get raised).
The poll respondents were divided into three main camps: supporters, rejecters, and skeptics, after being asked their opinion about interracial relationships, unmarried couples living together, mothers with young children going out to work and women not having children. The supporters said that the changes to the American nuclear family were positive or had no effect on American society. The rejecters felt that they were detrimental, and the skeptics, who at 37 percent were the largest group, tended to embrace most non-traditional families except single mothers.
The demographic breakdown of the groups, especially the skeptics, was pretty fascinating – they tended to be young, voted Democrat or independent, and were more heavily minority. A sociologist explained that single motherhood seems to be unique in that even single mothers don’t always see it as a good choice.
“Working mothers are acceptable to almost everybody,” he said. “Two parents who are unmarried are tolerated or acceptable. But many people, including single parents themselves, question single-parent families. There’s still a strong belief that children need two parents.”
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, however, nearly four in ten births are to unmarried women, which means that the numbers of single mothers (or unmarried couples raising children) are rising swiftly. This means two things: that single motherhood needs to be destigmatized so that people are no longer so hostile to the idea of women (or men, for that matter) raising children alone, but women also need to be given the tools to choose when and how they raise children.
This means making contraception and abortion affordable and accessible, and improving the sex education in this country so that the decision to have a child is, for every woman, an active choice. Then perhaps we will have fewer single mothers decrying their own lifestyle, and more acceptance of single-parent families in general.
Photo from Flickr.